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An Interview with Author R. M. Forte

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Born and raised south of the river from the Twin Cities in Minnesota, R. M. Forte took an interest in stories by listening to others reminisce on life and their choices. He holds that every moment compounds into more significant outcomes—be it advantageous or detrimental nothing in life is truly static. Having begun as a lyricist and composer, Forte’s interest and fascination with life and the many stories within propelled him toward refining his voice as an author. Whether crafting fiction, poetry, commentary, biography, or memoir, he seeks these moments, the linchpin of events that leave humanity in wonderment or horror—all the while drawn by the balance of temporal things and the hereafter. In the end, what is writing but a portion of reality isolated onto the page that we may all share in pondering life and values through another’s lens?

What inspired you to start writing this book?

The practice of authoring is often the practice of editing and rewriting; this book is no different. I was inspired to begin this work in early high school via text messages to a friend whom I was admittedly infatuated with at the time. However, as the drafts of chapters were written and my articulation on the page became more refined, I was not too fond of the work, causing me to scrap it all and restart no less than three times over ten or so years.

During this time, what was simply a fairytale-like story took on a whole other tone and inspiration. In those middle years of rewrites, I encountered a startling number of disadvantaged and homeless youth in the US and abroad. This piqued my interest, sending me on a research journey to better understand what causes and linchpins would place a person in such a position. One could seldom dig into this world without quickly coming upon the grim reality of trafficking not only as an entry point that might leave one homeless but as an unchecked threat to these lives.

Though one could focus on several aspects, the one that caught me was the power of influence and, more so, the desire of every human (which is exponentially compounded with youth) to feel seen, heard, and valued regardless of moral standing the one they receive this from holds. In summary, this book was inspired by the aspirations of humanity to have value and belonging; furthermore, how those base desires lead to fascinating choices.

Tell us the story of your book’s current title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

Much like the rewrites of the book itself, the title was originally “Just and Fairytale.” It’s not so stunning. I was unsatisfied with an uninteresting title as I was with the book’s voice. It went through a few variations that were so unmemorable I don’t recall one of them. It was only upon the most recent rendition of the book that “Thoroughfare Empire” seemed the most appropriate and alluring title.

Describe your dream book cover.

Having invested many years into developing visual arts skills with pencil and paper before moving to digital forms. I have imagined the cover as being something like a child (perhaps blurred), running through an archway or cramped market streets of a medieval citadel.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

This question stirred tears of joy as I chuckled, thinking, “If only they knew!” Music is so close to who I am that I don’t believe there would be enough space for all the soundtracks, so I leave you with a few.

First is Rachel Portman’s work on the Oliver Twist soundtrack. The two songs that perhaps most speak to me regarding this work are “Oliver Runs Away” and “The Artful Dodger.” However, the entire soundtrack is masterfully done.

Second, John Williams’ “Foot Race” and “Learning to Write” from his work on The Book Thief score.

Third, Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard’s work on Gladiator, thinking particularly of “The Might of Rome” and “Barbarian Horde.”

Fourth, Nikos Kypourgos’ work on the score for Fugitive Pieces. The two songs that hold firmly in my mind are “Arrival” and “The Ghetto.” Still, the entire score continues to enamor me.

Fifth and finally, Jerry Lane’s work on the score for the film Theeb; the song that endlessly entices me with this soundtrack is “Wolf,” which happens to be the capstone track.

There are a plethora of others for moments and events, but I would say those above stand out among the rest as atmospherically appropriate for the book.

What books are you reading (for research or comfort) as you continue the writing process?

I alternate daily between physical and audible books for consumption, allowing my mind to wander through another’s inflections, vocal patterns, or accents brings a book to life in a whole new way. That said, I’m currently reading through Orson Scott Card’s Shadow of the Giant, Stephen King’s Fairy Tale, Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, and Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit. I’m simultaneously listening through The Tunnels Beneath by Michael Wisehart and The March of Magnus by Robert J. Power. A series that was recently enjoyable in the realm of fiction fantasy was The Echoes Saga written by Philip C. Quaintrell.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

This may perhaps be my favorite question. When a friend heard this asked recently, his response was, “‘What job has he not had?’ Would be a better question.” My life goal is to pass on as much as possible to those around me, often learning or taking on roles others wouldn’t think to take. However, when it comes to the arts, I’ve tried my hand at most everything I can conceive of, usually forgoing financial gain (such as training in the broad sword, culinary, or pottery).

Even so, all of my career work has been primarily focused on youth. For about twelve years, I coached recreational gymnastics to students aged four to sixteen. I’ve taught music for over a decade now, focusing on the main rock band types of instruments while also writing, recording, and releasing music. I’ve enjoyed working with a few small theater productions, offering basics for stunt work, juggling, and devil sticks. Beyond that, some of the roles I most enjoyed were directing a youth group and teaching English as a second language at a few international summer camps.

I suppose my mentality has always been, “Why not?” I’m fascinated by the unknown, often jumping at the opportunity to learn something new; even if that learning only allows me to scratch the surface, it opens my mind to new possibilities—helping me understand more about humanity and the world we share. A parting thought to authors and readers alike: challenge yourself; do something you’ve never done before. Take a class or crash course—you’ll become all the more fascinating. You might even find that you start seeing things in a new light after the experience.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I grew up listening to my father read the works of J. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, among others. Though Tolkien and Lewis captured my young mind in a way that others hadn’t. I had loved acting out, telling, and listening to stories my whole life. Still, it wasn’t until I was around sixth grade, when I received a writing assignment in school, that I decided telling stories was something I wanted to make a career of.

Since I had already been trained to play piano and had begun some short compositions, I turned to music first as an outlet for weaving stories through lyric. Over time, songwriting was too limiting, though I continue compose music and lyric regularly, I turned to poems and short stories, which over time turned to considering the outlines for larger works such as Thoroughfare Empire.

Where is your favorite place to write?

The couch is, without a doubt, my favorite place to write. I’d hung blue Christmas lights beside it last winter, and they have become a fixed part of the ambiance while looking out the window to the forest of pines at the neighborhood’s edge. It’s a place I can sit for hours on end, provides minimal distractions, and has all the necessities from side tables full of journals and notes, to the coasters for cups of tea.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Most definitely. Before writing, I heat water in the teapot and choose a tea that fits my mood or the time of day. Music typically plays in my house, yet I have a playlist titled “Paper Thoughts,” which is primarily instrumental, that often plays when I get into writing. That said, folk tracks are a common substitute when I’m relaxed and spending hours on a manuscript. When I’m really on the grind, I tend to shift toward hard rock, speed metal, or EDM tracks.

Lighting is massively important while writing; if it’s early morning or late at night, I keep the blue Christmas lights on, along with a few lamps that have amber-toned bulbs. During the day, I tend to keep the amber lights on and open a current or two, allowing the natural light to pour in and light the room. I do my best never to wear jeans while writing; I think the texture of the fabric distracts me while I’m deep in thought, so I opt for sweats or cotton style gym shorts.

The only other ritual that comes to mind is post-it notes. I have a stalk of post-it notes that I keep nearby, using different colors at time to categorize information, and I usually have one of two that have a list of the aspects I want to focus on for the next time I sit down to write.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

The perfect reader is curious, someone who has not poured cement on their perspectives and opinions, an individual desiring to have their ideas challenged even if they decide to disagree in the end. There are only a few things I hold tightly in life, while the rest is an ever-changing and shifting scale of thought. Some I agree with, others I do not, but I aim to chase these uncomfortable moments—though I’m not perfect at doing so. I hope an eager reader is much the same, knowing each time they pick up a book, they are glimpsing a perspective not their own, and perhaps not even the authors. I would hope after reading Thoroughfare Empire, a reader is enamored and would want to read more. Yet more than that, I desire that a reader comes away with a greater awareness of their influence on the world around them, particularly any youth they cross.

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